Volume XI, Issue 29 ~ July 17-23, 2003

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Burton on the Bay

Will the Real Bob Ehrlich Please Stand Up?

Never pick a fight with somebody who buys ink by the barrel.
— An old saw in the newspaper game

I can’t recall who wrote words to that effect, but among media observers they pop up not infrequently. Methinks Gov. Bob Ehrlich, with all his reputed political savvy, should appreciate their meaning.

So what went wrong?

I see in The Sun that he not only picks a fight with that newspaper, which buys ink by the hundreds of barrels, but also takes that scrap right into the offices of the editors, editorial writers and reporters.

Tell me, what can he expect to accomplish by face-to-face bad-mouthing the opinion makers up there on Calvert Street in the city of Baltimore? He’s going to be under their scrutiny for more than three years to come.

I’m beginning to harbor an edgy feeling about this charismatic and energetic young Baltimore Countian who not too long ago moved into the Governor’s mansion in Annapolis. It’s no secret that I rooted for him as he fought the uphill fight against Kathleen Kennedy Townsend. But since he pulled off the big upset, he has tarnished a bit in these eyes.

Probably, as well, in the eyes of more than a few of his constituents if what I hear here ’n’ there is representative of citizens throughout the state of Maryland. There seems to be a little anxiety as we wait for the real Bob Ehrlich to stand up.

Emerging is at least a hint that the guy who saved us from more of the free-spending and vindictiveness of the Glendening regime (which was sure to continue if the latter’s lieutenant guv took over the rein) might be as thin-skinned — and maybe even as vindictive — as Parris himself.

Where’s Bob’s Head?
Emerging also is the impression that the real Bob Ehrlich isn’t standing up because …

  • Can it be because he is too insulated by a relatively young and very partisan staff from inside the Beltway that encircles Washington — so that what we thought was the real Bob Ehrlich is smothered?

  • Can it be he has been convinced by his staff that because the voters chose him over an unpopular predecessor, now everything must change? You know, get rid of as many previous programs and personnel as possible, throwing the baby out with the dishwater.

  • Or, can it be — as I fervently hope it isn’t — that he is of the belief that only Republicans, and others who supported him financially and otherwise, are fit to be in the new mode of leaner and meaner government that we see shaping up?

  • Can it be that a hint of vindictiveness is evident?

Smelling Trouble
To his credit, he can’t be accused of letting down his biggest supporters among the electorate. Overall, many who voted for him seem to be pleased to see government move in their direction. But there’s a little troubling uncertainty, which hopefully can be attributed to the big change he made from a long-term legislative way of life in the General Assembly and Congress to an administrative mode in the hot seat at Annapolis.

No longer does he just research and vote on issues of government. Now he is the one who implements and administers the decisions others make. There’s a big difference, and his job is certainly complicated by a budgetary mess left behind by his predecessor, who spent like he had carte blanche with the credit cards of the Maryland citizenry — who he treated like children.

That predecessor, Parris Glendening, always gave the impression he knew what was best for us whether we liked it or not. Curiously, he never bothered to ask us if we did. We’ve had enough of that. We’ve had enough political and vengeful meddling within departments, enough rampant spending, enough finagling, threatening and self-serving government. That’s why we voted for a clean break with the past.

In the early years of my newspaper life that has spanned more than 55 years, I covered politics long enough to understand what government was like, especially on the state level. I finally had enough and switched primarily to the outdoors and environment. But I’ve not forgotten the ways of politicians and politics. And I detect a few things bordering on the troubling.

I’ve witnessed good and effective government employees canned, some as scapegoats to conceal goofs. Like some others, I feel left out, uninformed — not on the professional level but as a citizen. There was all that emphasis on slot machine legislation, but not once did we ever get a satisfactory, full and detailed explanation of the concept; just that it had to be done for the sake of education and to dig us out of a bottomless financial pit.

Like so many others, I have great concerns about the woes of the Chesapeake — and lacking is information and reasoning on behalf of the governor to fully justify such decisions as to drop funding for the Bi-State crab program, relaxing crabbing regulations for watermen a few months back and to plow ahead with a still-questionable foreign oyster program, to name a few.

What We Don’t Need
Maybe there’s justification for things like this, but I’ve had enough in recent years of a governor just doing his thing and never bothering to make his case. It bothers me more that, because he figures The Sun, also The Post, isn’t giving him a fair break, he plans on selling his ideas and programs in brief sound bites on TV and radio talkshows, among other avenues, to skirt the papers that dare criticize or question.

Just what we don’t need is avoiding issues. I would hope — and I still do hope — the real Bob Ehrlich is a bigger man than that. I’m still hoping our new governor has an informative and sound message that will stand against the questions and scrutiny of two big dailies, which incidentally have in more than a few stories portrayed him as a genuinely warm, smart and caring governor.

Surely, Ehrlich personally can stand the heat, and hopefully his programs can survive the scrutiny. He’s got an awful lot of people rooting for him. It’s just that they want the real Bob Ehrlich to stand up and give us some reassurance. Enough said.



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Last updated July 17, 2003 @ 2:03am